2021 Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD review

Torquey all-paw drive, solid features and an appealing price make the Sport diesel the all-rounder pick of Kia’s freshly-updated Sorento crop.

3 weeks ago
Comments
Curt Dupriez
Journalist
PROS
  • Well-presented and spacious cabin
  • Fine on-road manners and lusty powertrain
  • Very solid all-round value proposition
CONS
  • Lack of row three curtain airbags
  • Minor powertrain grumbles
  • Some cheapo cabin plastics

It’s fair to say Kia has made strong positive impressions with its newly-revamped Sorento, not only as a key model for a crucial segment, but as a statement of where the Korean marque is heading with design, upmarket focus, and tech for its SUVs. 

The Kia Sorento Sport version here positions itself as the value choice augmented with a smattering of niceties that are generally popular amongst a good many buyers. But is it the pick of the current, fetching, four-variant bunch?

Indeed, we’re expecting great things for this neatly presented buck-banger given that, in value for money ratings – we rated the base S an 8.4 and the Sport+ sat above the Sport an 8.5.

How much does the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD cost?

Of the four Kia Sorento tiers, the Sport is one up from base and lobs from $53,290 drive-away in diesel form, with on-demand all-wheel drive exclusively. Pricing has crept up little, by $300, since the fourth-generation Sorento arrived in Australia in the second half of 2020 and it currently lists for $51,470 before on-roads on Kia’s public website. 

Opting for the petrol-powered front-driven Sport, when it arrives, saves around $3000. There’s a similar hip-pocket benefit choosing oiler all-paw motivation in base S specification ($50,290 drive-away for either). 

Moving up the range, prices start at $57,690 drive-away for the Sport+ AWD diesel and a heady $65,290 drive-away for the GT-Line in AWD oiler guise.   

Of the seven finishes available, anything outside of standard Clear White is a $695 option, of which there are two blues and an assortment of white/grey/black options.

What do you get?

The $3000 walk-up from the base S to our Sport lifts the equipment and appearance in fairly predictable areas. But rather than dolling up an average vehicle to mask its shortcomings, the Sport treatment takes an already impressive Sorento baseline and makes it that much more appealing in many of the right places.

For a start, the machine-finish 18-inch wheels do the appearance justice against the base version’s undercooked 17s. It brings with it a full size spare, too. And, the 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment befits the Sorento’s commodious cabin ambience and showcases the sharp new system content more suitably than the S’s modest 8.0-inch stuff. 

The dual-zone climate control with dedicated third-row fan control is a nice premium touch and proprietary sat-nav bolsters the goodies list, as do the auto window defogger and tyre pressure monitoring. There’s no leather, be it synthetic or real – you’ll need to move up to the Sport+ version for that – though the driver’s seat does get fancier 10-way adjustment with two-way lumbar support.

Otherwise, standard kit includes LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, analogue instruments with a 4.2-inch colour driver’s screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two 12-volt outlets and a trio of USB ports in the first row, plus single 12V and USB outlets in the second row.   

The seven-seater fits five child seat top-tether and ISOFIX anchor points for the outboard second-row seats, as well as one-touch flat-folding second-row seating for a bit of entry and egress convenience to the third row. 

What do you miss out on against the next-rung Sport+ and flagship GT-Line? Mostly luxury niceties, though in Sport trim you do miss out on a 360-degree camera and the fulsome array of eight(!) USB ports spread throughout the Sorento’s three rows. 

The Kia Sorento Sport trim has a conventional ignition key barrel rather than offering push-button start, plus, there’s an absence of a few bits of safety kit found on the tree-topping GT-Line, too.

All in all, the extra $3000 for the Sport over the base S does appear money well spent.

Is the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD safe?

While most of the range variants we’ve reviewed thus far have listed the new Sorento as untested by ANCAP, the Australasian program awarded the new Sorento a full five stars in December under the newly toughened testing regime and assessed by Euro NCAP.

The five-star ANCAP safety rating applies to diesel versions only – petrol variants remain unrated at the time of writing.  

The oiler Kia Sorento scored 82 and 85 per cent respectively for adult and child occupant protection. Interestingly, the latter score is despite the absence of third-row airbags. It does, however, fit dual front, front-centre and dual-front side airbags, with curtain airbags covering seating rows one and two.

Vulnerable road user assessment was scored 63 per cent, bolstered by a forward AEB system that senses cars, pedestrians and cyclists, though it was hamstrung somewhat by a lack of reversing AEB. Safety assistance did, though, rate a commendable 89 per cent bolstered by a strong performance of interurban (high-speed) AEB, junction AEB and emergency steering intervention.

Active safety features are comprehensive, the aforementioned systems augmented with multi-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring and avoidance assist, both lane following and active lane keeping, and rear cross-traffic alert. There’s even a Safe Exit Assist monitor to prevent opening doors on rear-coming traffic.  

The Kia Sorento Sport does miss out on Kia’s rather excellent Blind Sport View Monitor, that projects a camera view into the driver’s screen, as well as parking collision avoidance and a 360-degree camera – all of which lob on GT-Line – though the safety features fitted conspire to a suite amongst the most comprehensive in segment for the sort of money it asks for.

What is the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD like on the inside?

Most past cabin reviews kick off with Sorento’s conspicuously modernised design, and certainly stepping out of ageing Sportage – the last Kia I reviewed – and into its more contemporary big brother demonstrates the sizeable advancement in style and techy window dressing. 

But let’s start with the relatively more boring if crucially more important packaging. 

It feels big and solid and Kia’s carved commendable space from vehicle that seems larger inside than it appears outside. It doesn’t, however, seem overly bloated with excess mass, offering pleasingly moderate not-too-high-nor-low seating and ample glass area to make the ambience lean and airy.

It’s roomy, but the bluff dash fascia and prominent centre console make it seem oh-so-slightly cosy to good effect. Despite the obvious size, you don’t feel like you’re captaining the Queen Mary.

The generous slide and tilt adjustment of the row-two seating makes for quite the dedicated five-seater, as undoubtedly many owners will likely configure much of the time.

Head- and legroom are excellent, ambience is spacious and it only gets a little snug for shoulder room with three adults across. The seat base is high, too, for good outward visibility for younger kids.     

There’s genuine concession for passenger comfort in the Sport. Row two gets air vents, 12V and USB device power outlets, cupholders in both the doors and the fold-down arm rest, and decent-sized bottle holders and storage bins in the doors.

Unlike the base S version, the dual-zone ‘three-stage’ climate control in the Sport (and higher variant grades) brings with it dedicated air vents and fan speed controls in the third row that are less indulgences and ought to be considered essential fitment to a seven-seater. Top marks, Kia.  

Third row access is fairly decent. You can either tilt the 60:40-split seat assembly forward or, if there’s not enough entry or egress access, fold the row two seating completely flat. Third-row room is mostly child friendly and the low and flat (50:50-split) seat bases and limited headroom really limits long-haul friendliness for taller occupants. The cupholders and fan controls in the rearmost seating positions are nice touches though.

The new-look Kia Sorento dash and centre stack design is elaborate and borderline fussy but mostly it works a treat. There’s a lot going on and most it is going well, with a whiff of Mercedes-Benz in the access and instrument/infotainment binnacle. As a whole, it’s by no means some carbon copy and treks its own inimitable styling path.  

Much of it mirrors our assessment of the base S because much of it is identical. There’s a good mix of textures and finishes, some of the metallic-look plastic-feeling stuff presenting nicely, some of the glossy plastic paneling less so. Designers have thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at presentation – including those mini air vents – and it’s easy to warm to the obvious effort that’s been invested.

A quality wheel, tidy switchgear, a neat drive/terrain mode dial and electric park brake button all sit at the nicer end of mainstream and are just short of being bona-fide premium in effect. The seat trim is little more utilitarian by contrast but, in form and functionality, the front seating is quite impressive and comfy indeed.

Infotainment is a quantum leap forward compared with Kia’s older generation stuff and, as we’ve reported in past reviews, it’s slick, sharp, generally quick and easy to navigate. It doesn’t corral you into some elaborate proprietary connectivity universe as most premium Euro systems attempt to do, but that’s no bad thing in this reviewer’s opinion. 

There’s a modest if usable 187 litres of bootspace as a seven-seater, enlarging to 616L with the 50:50-split third row seat backs stowed and a grand total of 2011L converted to a two-seater, complete with a commendably flat load space. A full-size spare is a welcome inclusion. 

Equal parts function and fanfare, Kia’s done quite a decent job on this new-gen Sorento’s interior.

What’s under the bonnet?

Though the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four is considered a ‘revised’ version of the old engine, that it now features an alloy rather than an iron block demonstrates there’s more than just a tickle going on under the bonnet.

The ‘SmartStream E-VGT CRDi’, as Kia calls it, produces 148kW at 3800rpm and a heady 440Nm in a 1750-2750rpm peak band. So while the oiler outputs 52kW less than the much larger-capacity 3.5-litre V6 petrol option, the torque count is up by a significant 108Nm.

Interestingly, the diesel adopts a wet dual-clutch eight-speed gearbox rather than the torque convertor design used formerly, and that continues in the petrol front-driver. Despite general trends away from dual-clutchers in wider motoring the Korean carmakers are still keenly pursuing the format as something of premium transmission for both mundane and performance motoring.

The upshot, its maker says, is improved fuel economy of around 15 per cent. Towing capacity has improved to 2000kg with a 200kg load on the ball.

Kia claims a super impressive 6.1L/100km for the combined cycle with an urban figure of 7.4L – approaching half that of the petrol alternative (13.7L) – and, on test, we found our test SUV returned closer to high eights for our mostly urban assessment.    

Drive is via on-demand all-wheel drive that defaults to front drive though the system is capable of locking in AWD at the user’s whim.

There are four different drive modes available for the powertrain – Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart – as well as a choice of three terrain-specific traction and stability calibrations beyond a tarmac-friendly state that offers Mud, Snow and Sand facility.

This suite, called Terrain Mode, is exclusive to diesel all-paw versions of the Sorento – at least until all-wheel drive is offered with the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid versions due later this year.

How does the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD drive?

There’s a real substance to the Sorento’s manner on road that mirrors Kia’s upmarket push. It’s solid (there’s that word again), substantial and resolved in execution.

But while it feels its weight – nigh on two tonnes of it – in substance, I’ll mirror my colleagues’ past assessment of the breed in that the large SUV doesn’t feel as ponderous and unwieldy as its appearance otherwise suggests. And it’s evident the polished refinement of the chassis and powertrain has everything to do with it. 

This diesel driveline really is good. Not without fault, but it’s very impressive. The part-throttle energy is unstressed and once you do bury the right foot the Sorento returns quite spirited acceleration seeming unaffected by how heavily it’s loaded up with occupants. Sonically, there’s no mistaking it’s a diesel, but there’s nothing like the sort of rattle some might associate the oiler format. Nice work.

Equally, Kia has done a fine job on transmission calibration. It really is a slick unit on the move and, as we’ve fawned over prior, it’s quite intelligent in dialling up the right sweet spot of the engine rev range in almost all situations.

There are a couple of minor gremlins, if only really apparent because of the general refinement of the whole package tends to amplify them. Idling at a standstill, there’s an in-drive oscillation from the engine that is mild if noticeable. No biggie. The lack of stop-start functionality for our market means there’s no option to momentarily shut it down either.  

There’s some very mild hunting when riding the brake in stop-start traffic, but not to the point of any real annoyance. That said, the climb out of my underground car space just after cold start-up does cause some surging while the clutch packs sort themselves out. That said, in flat running and up to temperature it’s a polished enough example of the dual-clutch breed. 

This is a locally-tuned chassis built on a fundamentally fit architecture and the ride comfort really shines. Of the four different wheel sizes in range – they go up an inch with each successive variant – the 18s fitted here with 60-series rubber are arguably the sweet spot between the cheap looking S-spec 17s and the 19s on the Sport+, a variant we found to be slightly too terse across the rear axle. 

The Kia Sorento Sport’s ride quality is damn good, pliant yet supportive and only a touch harsh negotiating square-edged speed humps at a quicker speed than you ought to. The suspension settles quickly enough and there’s none of that wallowiness you’d expect in device blending this sort of pliancy with such considerable mass.

It’s certainly on balance a quiet and comfy experience on road at any speed. On the highway, it serenely ticks along without much wind noise of note and the only intrusion is a small amount of suspension and tyre feedback on the very odd occasion.

Add to that the fact its general driver ergonomics are sound, the seating is supportive and there’s roominess aplenty for four or five adults, and the Sorento really does make for a supreme long-hauling family prospect.

Despite the myriad drive and traction modes available, the SUV doesn’t require any fiddling at all with normal mixed driving. I did, though, find myself thumbing for the wheel-mounted active lane-keeping ‘off’ button often because it’s a little too hyperactive in Sydney’s urban confines.

The actual lane centring is decent and transparent, it’s just the audible chime when a tyre crosses a white line tends to get a bit arduous, even on short trips.

How much does the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD cost to run?

The Sorento is covered by Kia’s excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. There’s one year of complimentary roadside assistance though this can be extended through to up to eight years if you continue to service your vehicle with Kia.   

Servicing intervals are a typical 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, with capped pricing advertised through seven years.

Interval costs vary between $335 and $729, averaging out to just $495 per year for servicing.

CarExpert’s take on the Kia Sorento Sport Diesel AWD

Strike me impressed. Kia clearly set out make a statement and mark its territory with one if its segment’s finer offerings with this new-generation Sorento, and it’s well executed in a good many of the right places. 

Accommodation wise, it’s about as decent a seven-seater as the packaging more or less allows and that seems an important thing for Aussie owners whether they utilise it or not. But the key shortcoming, of course, is the lack of third-row curtain airbags and the Sorento doesn’t avoid similar criticism here than what it’s copped in reviews past.  

Where the Sorento really shines is when you jam the row-two bench rearward and view it as a commodious five-seater. And while we’ve been picky about some interior details, overall Kia’s large SUV is a fine place in which the family can clock up kilometres.

That its friendly manner behind the wheel augments its impressive on-road comfort really makes the Sorento Sport quite the compelling package that not only nails the brief where it counts, but represents compelling value all things considered. We recommend you consider it a short-list contender if you’re shopping around in the large SUV segment.

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MORE: Kia Sorento news and reviews


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OVERALL RATING8.4
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.2
Ride Comfort 9
Safety 8.8
Fit for Purpose 8.1
Handling Dynamics 8.6
Interior Practicality and Space 8.5
Fuel Efficiency 8.6
Value for Money 8.2
Performance 8.2
Technology Infotainment 7.8
A$52,470 MRLP
6.1L
148kW
159g
5 ★
View full specifications